Swarm of Mosquitoes on the Water While Boating

The Fourth of July holiday is right around the corner and many boaters, me included, enjoy watching fireworks from the water.  But, depending on where you live, you might encounter some pesky bloodsuckers who might spoil the show.  And no, I am not talking about the kind who never offer to “pitch in” for gas.  Instead, I am referring to Culicidae, better known as Mosquitoes.

Bites from mosquitoes can be more than an uncomfortable annoyance.  It can pose a health risk too since some carry harmful diseases such as West Nile and Zika (as well as Malaria but that has been eradicated in the US).  Therefore, it is important to take precautions if you plan to be out in the early morning or after sunset in mosquito infested areas.  However, some of the more common preventative measures are not always practical for boaters.  In this article, I discuss some alternative methods to protect you and your guests from these intruders.

Please note that I have included links to some products referenced in this article for your convenience.  If you click on a link and buy something, BoaterInput will receive a small commission to help defray some of the cost to maintain this site. 

Common Methods

If you are wondering how to repel mosquitoes when you are outdoors or on your boat, you have several methods to choose from.  The following are some of the most common methods to deter these pests.

Bug Repellents

Perhaps the most common approach is by applying some sort of bug repellent to exposed skin.  There are several different varieties to choose from.  Here is a brief overview of the more effective solutions.

DEET.  Bug repellent containing DEET was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 for use by military personnel in insect-infested areas.  Years ago, there were some health concerns associated with DEET but extensive research over the decades has deemed it safe when used as directed.  Just be sure to not get it in your eyes or mouth and don’t apply more often than recommended.  However, though it might be safe to use on your skin, your boat might not be so fortunate.  Repellants with DEET are known to melt certain plastics.  That means your dash, gauges, plastic windscreen, and LED display on your nice fish finder could take a hit.  Same for any plastic eyewear lenses or watch faces.

It turns out that DEET may repel fish as well such as after tying on a lure.  So if you are wondering why your buddy is catching all the fish and you are not having any luck, it may be that you don’t “suck” after all.

If you plan on using this type of repellent, look for a product with 20% to 30% DEET.  More than this doesn’t seem to improve its effectiveness but less doesn’t protect as long.  Deep Woods OFF from SC Johnson contains 25% DEET and has performed well in prior comparative studies.

Picardin.  Approved for sale in the US in 2005, Picardin is a synthetic compound derived from the same plant that produces table pepper.  Though not as well known as DEET, studies have shown it to be just as effective in repelling ticks and mosquitoes and is safe to use.  And, it doesn’t have the smell or feel of DEET that some find offensive.   Further, I am unaware of any harmful effects of Picardin around boating equipment.

Consumer Reports recommends that you look for something with around 20% Picardin such as this product from Sawyer that gets excellent reviews on Amazon.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE)

A natural alternative to DEET is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus which is an extract from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus tree that is native to Australia.  In a 2015 study, this product from Cutter was shown to be about equally effective as the top performing DEET product in repelling ticks and mosquitoes.   Likewise, Consumer Reports tested several products containing about 30% OLE which were also found to be effective.

Citronella Candles

A Citronella candle can deter mosquitoes at close range and I often use them when sitting on my patio or dock.  However, this is obviously not recommended for use on a gas-powered boat.

Long Clothing

Another approach to repel mosquitoes is to wear long sleeved shirts and pants.  But, depending on where you live or boat, this might not be a very practical option.  Where I live in East Texas, I would prefer to take my chances with the mosquitoes vs. sweating it out on a hot summer evening.


Wind may limit a mosquito’s ability to fly or disperse the carbon dioxide you emit making it more difficult for them to find you.  According to a Michigan State University study, it appears that mosquitoes avoid places with wind speeds that exceed their flying speeds (which is only about  1 to 1 1/2 mph).  This is great while you are cruising around the lake but not of much help when you drop anchor waiting for the fireworks show to begin.

An Alternative Solution

I am not a fan of dousing myself in bug repellent.  I just don’t like the smell and greasy feeling.  Plus, the last thing I want to do after a fun evening on the boat is to jump in the shower to rinse off.  But, as mentioned earlier, I really don’t want to wear long clothing in the middle of summer in Texas either.  I figured there had to be a better way.  And, after considerable research, I stumbled upon an excellent solution – the Thermacell EX90.

This rechargeable Li-ion device dispenses repellent for up to 9 hours covering a 20 ft radius.  It uses dispensable cartridges (refills sold separately) that last approximately 12 hours and are easy to replace.   Just set it in your boat in a central area, push the power button, and you should be protected from mosquitoes after about 15 minutes.

The product gets excellent reviews on Amazon and is backed by a 3-year warranty (rechargeable models if registered).  I have also heard from other owners who say they work great.  Note that they do have other models besides the EX90 and some are less expensive.  Just be aware that those that end in “55” provide 5 1/2 hours of protection vs. the nine hours of the “90” models.

They are good to use in other places too, not just on your boat, such as when camping, picnicking or relaxing on your patio.  I plan to get one for my dock.   Though mosquitoes are not as attracted to me as some other people (apparently, according to Pfizer, DNA accounts for 67% of mosquito attraction), the same can’t be said for some of my other family members.  I remember one night in particular when I was fishing off my dock with my son-in-law Cody.   The mosquitoes absolutely feasted on him but never touched me.  He was miserable the next day.  And, because I like my son-in-law and hope to see my grandsons more often, I plan on picking up a Thermacell before his next visit 😉.


The bottom line is if you are looking to repel mosquitoes when you are out on your boat, you do have choices.  Many bug repellents are very effective, but you should look for ones with the proper amount of the active ingredient (20%-30% DEET, approximately 20% Picaridin, or 30% OLE).  Just remember that if you are using a product that contains DEET, be very careful when applying it as it could damage many plastic items.  Best bet is to apply it outside the boat first or carefully spray it on your hands and wipe onto exposed skin to avoid inadvertently getting some on sensitive boat equipment.

And, if you want to avoid spraying something on your skin altogether, you might want to pick up a Thermacell which will give you and your guests about a 20′ ring of protection.


The 10 Most Effective Ways to Get Rid of Mosquitos Without Bug Spray“.  Web Blog Post.  Native Pest Management.  27 November 2023.

Brink, Susan.  “What’s The Best Way To Keep Mosquitoes From Biting?” Web Blog Post.  NPR.  30 January 2016.

“Picaridin vs DEET: Which Is the Best Insect Repellent?” Web Blog Post.  Be Outdoors.

Roberts, Catherine.  “How Well Do Picaridin Insect Repellents Work?”  Web Blog Post.  Consumer Reports.  14 June 2024.

Roberts, Catherine. “How Well Does Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Work in Bug Sprays?” Web Blog Post.  Consumer Reports.  14 June 2024.

and How Safe Is Deet?” Web Blog Post.  Consumer Reports. 19 May 2024.

“DEET”.  Web Blog Post.  EPA.  April 1998.

Carolyn, Shearlock.  “DEET and Plastic Boat Equipment“.  Web Blog Post.  TheBoatGalley. 20 January 2023.

Nicholson, Darrell.  “The Ultimate Guide to Caring for Clear Plastic“.  Web Blog Post.  Practical Sailor.  31 January 2024.

Seladi-Schulman, Jill – PhD.  “About Lemon Eucalyptus Oils“.  Web Blog Post.  Healthline. 26 February 2020.

Using Wind to Repel Mosquitoes“.  Web Blog Post.  University of Washington.   24 December 2002.

Fight the Bite“.  Web Blog Post.  Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Jerry Mona - BoaterInput

About the author

Jerry Mona is an avid boater and angler and long-time boating industry insider. With over three decades of experience, he is often considered to be the leading research expert with boaters and has helped numerous manufacturers and trade associations to understand the needs, wants, attitudes and behaviors of boaters. He now shares many of his insights about boats and boaters for free on his BoaterInput.com website.

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